I have been stewing on this whole Miley Cyrus “chinky-eyes” photo thing all last week. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, here it is:
Apparently, the photo of Miley and her friends “goofing” around making funny faces (i.e. making fun of slanty-eyed Asians [including the one sitting next to her]) leaked out last week. It didn’t surprise me that such a photo existed but it did make me sad. And then it made me angry after Miley came out with her weak-ass apology.
It came to a head for me yesterday at a small gathering of Asian American friends around some Vietnamese spring rolls. We agreed (in very loud angry tones) that something needed to be done about this, but my one friend insisted that going after a 16-year-old white girl would just make the Asian American community look hyper-sensitive and mean. My solution was that we need to start a letter-writing campaign to Disney. We need to let them know that we are effected by this whole thing. The only real way to effect change is to go directly to the people in charge.
Below I have pasted my letter to the two executive producers and the head of Disney Channel Worldwide. Below that I have addresses to which you can send letters as well. The more actual mail they recieve, the more likely they are to do something about it. Do not start an email campaign or a facebook group to protest Hannah Montana — that stuff will just disappear into the cyber-ether. Actual viewer outrage in the form of a US postal delivery is a highly effective tool. For them to know you took the time to actually write, stamp and send a letter to their offices is a very big deal. If you are as outraged as I am about Miley’s insensitivity and her lack of a proper apology, you will take the time to write your own letter.
On a side note, I feel like this Asian kid in the picture completely captures what the experience of growing up Asian in America is all about. Halfway in on the joke, halfway a butt of the joke — the blind-sided “I-don’t-know-how-to-react-to-this-racist-bullshit” look on his face sums up so many awful moments in my own life.Does anyone know who this kid is?
I am writing in response to the recent controversy with the Miley Cyrus “slanty-eyed” photograph. As an industry professional, a concerned parent and an Asian American, this incident has struck me deeply. I am very disappointed in the lack of response by the Disney Corporation.
Miley Cyrus is a sixteen-year-old girl from whom I would expect immature and irresponsible behavior. But as a company that prides itself on diversity, I would hope that as a responsible parent would to a child that knows no better, you would take measures to explain how hurtful and disrespectful her actions were.
As an Asian American who was born and raised in this country, I have had to endure similar humiliations throughout my youth. When I saw the aforementioned photo, it conjured up memories of schoolyard teasing that cast me as an outsider simply because of my race. Perhaps naively, I had thought we, as a country, had grown past this kind of outright racist taunting. For Disney to allow this incident to go unaddressed confirms that not only have we NOT evolved as a society but that those with the power to do something about it deem such actions as acceptable.
I am a card-carrying member of the DGA and WGA and have made two feature films that deal head on with representations of Asian Americans. While I don’t think anyone can claim to be an expert in this area, I come pretty darn close. I have witnessed my own struggle and the struggles of fellow talented Asian Americans in the film industry. When incidents like this occur, it chips away at my hopes that Asian Americans will one day be accepted in mainstream culture. It validifies that Asians will always be seen as foreign and in addition, easily mocked without fear of repercussions. Would this incident have been dealt with as much silence had the photo been of Ms. Cyrus in blackface eating watermelon in the guise as “goofing around?”
I was fortunate enough to take part in the ABC New Talent Directing Fellowship in 2006-07. During that time, I shadowed Roger Christiansen on episode 116 of Hannah Montana entitled “Good Golly Ms. Dolly.” While I found it a worthwhile and educational experience, I did make note of the fact that on the Hannah Montana set there was a lack of people of color both in front of and behind the camera. This was unique because on almost every other ABC show I had observed (e.g. LOST, Desperate Housewives, George Lopez, etc) this was not the case. In fact, as best as I can recall, I think I was the only person of color on the set of Hannah Montana.
What further disheartened me was that Ms. Cyrus issued what she called an “apology” on her blog. Her tone was defensive and lacked any taking of responsibility for her actions. She demonized the press, framed herself as the victim and used the excuse that she was just making “goofy faces.” What she failed to recognize was that her “goofy face” was at the expense of Asians worldwide. Whether she intended to make fun of an entire race of people or not is not an excuse for doing so. If someone isn’t aware that drunk driving is against the law, they are still responsible for crashing a car into a telephone pole. As a public figure, she needs to understand that the example she is setting for the millions of girls that look up to her is cowardly and irresponsible.
As a new father, I am disappointed that my baby girl will have to suffer the same lack of good role models as I did growing up. Is this the best that Disney has to offer her? I hope not. Please take the appropriate measures to remedy the situation. I would like to think we could all grow from this experience.
c/o Debbee Klein
360 N. Crescent Dr., North Bldg.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Steven Peterman (Executive Producer/Creator Hannah Montana)
c/o It’s A Laugh Productions
201 N Occidental Blvd Bldg 6
Los Angeles, CA 90026
President, Disney Channel Worldwide
3800 W Alameda Ave #2026
Burbank, CA 91505